Vanished Smile

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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 4/6/2010
  • Publisher: Vintage

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On August 21, 1911, the unfathomable happenedLeonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa vanished from the Louvre. More than twenty-four hours passed before museum officials realized she was gone. The prime suspects were as shocking as the crime: Pablo Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire, young provocateurs of a new art. As French detectives using the latest methods of criminology, including fingerprinting, tried to trace the thieves, a burgeoning international media hyped news of the heist. No story captured the imagination of the world quite like this one. Thousands flocked to the Louvre to see the empty space where the painting had hung. They mourned as if Mona Lisa were a lost loved one, left flowers and notes, and set new attendance records. For more than two years, Mona Lisa's absence haunted the art world, provoking the question: Was she lost forever? A century later, questions still linger. Part love story, part mystery,Vanished Smilereopens the case of the most audacious and perplexing art theft ever committed. R. A. Scotti's riveting, ingeniously realized account is itself a masterly portrait of a world in transition. Combining her skills as a historian and a novelist, Scotti turns the tantalizing clues into a story of the painting's transformation into the most familiar and lasting icon of all time.

Author Biography

R. A. Scotti is the author of three previous works of nonfiction, including Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal—Building St. Peter’s and Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938, and four novels. She lives in New York City.

Table of Contents

Mapp. x
A Perfect Crimep. 1
The Vanishing Actp. 7
The Huntp. 27
The Blank Wallp. 63
Not the Usual Suspectsp. 77
The Mystery Womanp. 119
A Letter from Leonardop. 155
The Stingp. 189
A Perfect Storyp. 209
The Prisonerp. 219
Acknowledgmentsp. 229
Notesp. 231
Bibliographyp. 237
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.



SUNDAY IN THE LOUVRE WITH LISA.Another scorching day in Paris, ninety- five degrees Fahrenheit, no hint of a breeze, no hope of a shower. The air was close, the sun so blazing that even the carriage horses were wearing straw hats. For more than fifty days, temperatures had rarely dropped below ninety degrees. The country beyond Paris was burning. Thatch- roofed farmhouses and acres of parched forest had become tinder, and spontaneous- combustion fires broke out near Poitiers, Orléans, and Beaumont, Albertville, Dijon, and Fontainebleau.

Within the galleries of the Louvre Museum, even in the late afternoon of August 20, the heat was a physical presence so overwhelming that it trivialized four thousand years of art and history. Maximilien Alphonse Paupardin slumped on his stool in the doorway of the Salon Carré, as sated and overstuffed as a Rembrandt burgher. He was weighed down by the weather and by an unseasonable midday meal. In everything except name, Paupardin was a simple man who felt elevated in a uniform—first in an army uniform and now in the costume of a Louvre guard. A uniform gave him stature, confidence, a defined place in the world. Out of uniform, he felt diminished.

He was ignorant of the history that surrounded him. He knew nothing of the medieval knights in suits of mail who had staved off Anglo- Norman invaders from the parapets of Fortress Louvre or the lusty young kings, François I and Louis XIV, a Valois and a Bourbon respectively, who, imagining Paris as a new Rome, had turned the Louvre fortress into a palace fit for a Caesar. Paupardin knew only one emperor, the cocky little Corsican and epic pillager, Napoleon Bonaparte.

On an average day, several hundred visitors would traipse through the galleries—students, artists, foreign travelers, and Frenchmen from the provinces—but visitors were few on this Sunday afternoon at the end of summer. An occasional tourist had wandered through from the Grande Galerie, not staying long enough to arouse the guard’s interest or register in his memory. He stirred on his stool, his nap arrested.

Had a ripple of gas disturbed him, his midday meal returning? Did he catch a sudden whiff of oleander or hear an alien sound? He raised an eyelid. Three “macaroni” were whispering together. The old guard glanced at them with disdain. They were dressed in their Sunday best, black suits and straw boaters, but no suit could disguise what they were—young working- class men who had immigrated to Paris from the mountain towns of northern Italy looking for work and, more often than not, finding trouble.

There was one other visitor. The boy had returned with flowers. A young Goethe enamored of all things Italian. The guard recognized him, a quintessential German, hair flaxen, eyes ice blue, warmed now by the lust to possess the dark lady. He mooned over her, gazing into her liquid eyes, and she seemed to answer. Eyes are the mirror of the soul, her creator, Leonardo da Vinci, believed.

Men had been coming to court her for years, bearing flowers, notes, and poems that Paupardin scooped up and tossed out at the end of the day. She accepted their attentions democratically but gave nothing in return, just the same half- smile. She conferred it on all equally. A promise, a tease, a warning. No man could be sure. The lovesick boy would return the next day and the day after.

Like rival lovers paying suit, the three olive- skinned men watched the German. Bemused? Mocking? Wary? Their faces gleamed as if in rapture, features shining and dissolving in a heat so oppressive that, if The Victory of Samothrace were sculpted of wax, it would dissolve like the wings of Icarus. The flowers the boy proffered were already wilting.

Paupardin saw the visitors without seeing them, as he saw the paintings without seeing them, the masterpieces of the Louvre collection, each in its place, unch

Excerpted from Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of the Mona Lisa by R. A. Scotti
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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